A single passenger had to place 20 calls in a single day to try and track down lost luggage. Another said they had to wait on hold for a total of 10 hours before they got through. Then there was the poor soul who tried to get a response via Twitter after filling out multiple online forms, to no avail.
Although the airline industry is hardly known for providing a consistently outstanding customer experience, the recent travails at Air Canada appear to represent a new low.
The incidents above were recounted in a detailed story on Business Insider, which interviewed irate customers from the country’s largest airline. It’s rare for me to see Air Canada get this kind of international attention. Unfortunately it’s not for anideal reason.
Around the same time, a colleague on LinkedIn posted an image of a message she received that was attributed to Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau. She prefaced it with, “This is shocking! It’s going to get worse? It’s not their fault? What was the strategy behind this missive?”
Of course I then had to read the whole thing, which appears to squeeze between 500 and 800 words on a single page. In it, Rousseau notes the chaos that’s happened across the entire airline industry since the COVID-19 pandemic grounded most flights and led to waves of layoffs.
“Despite the largest and fastest scale of hiring in our history, as well as investments in aircraft and equipment, it is now clear that Air Canada’s operations too have been disrupted by the industry’s complex and unavoidable challenges,” he writes. “The result has been flight cancellations and customer service shortfalls on our part that we would never have intended for our customers or for our employees, and for which we sincerely apologize.”
So far, so good. This is followed by details on how Air Canada has been trying to improve, including self-service tools and more flexible ticket policies. Then, at the end of the fifth paragraph, he finally gets to the real point of the letter: the company’s decision to reduce its summer flight schedule, which he admits will only help alleviate the problems over time.
Challenging CX transitions
Much of what gets talked about in the CX community is about managing call volumes, improving satisfaction scores and designing a more memorable and engaging overall experience. This is a good example of a topic that may be overlooked: when a brand needs to degrade the existing experience in order to meet basic expectations.
There may be no universal approach to doing this successfully, but one best practice is probably being clear about the challenges upfront. Instead of “A Message From Air Canada’s President,” for instance, the message could have been headlined with, “Why We’re Reducing Air Canada’s Flight Schedules.”
Then, rather than a lot of preamble about the global challenges and your initial attempts to deal with them (which now reads as self-justifying, in this case), you should lead with as many specifics behind the changes as possible. Air Canada, in this case, did what we in journalism call “burying the lede.” CX practitioners might describe it as starting the customer journey at the wrong point.
And make no mistake: communicating this strategy is as much a customer journey as the more idealistic one airlines might conceive for their passengers. Everyone involved better fasten their seatbelts. The bumpy ride has only begun.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.